SINGAPORE: Grab, Southeast Asia’s largest ride-hailing and delivery firm, began trading on the Nasdaq stock exchange on Thursday (Dec 2) after a record US$40 billion merger with a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC).

Grab’s co-founders Mr Anthony Tan and Ms Tan Hooi Ling rang the opening bell at about 10.30pm at a ceremony held at the Shangri-La Hotel in Singapore, sparking loud applause from the crowd who were holding on to plastic clappers and balloons in Grab’s iconic colours of green and white.

They were joined on stage by representatives from the driver, delivery and merchant-partner communities.

Its shares, trading under the ticker symbol “GRAB”, rose as much as 21 per cent in opening trades before retreating to lose 23 per cent lower at US$8.51 by 2.34am (Singapore time) on Friday.

“The price makes no difference to me. I’m going to celebrate tonight and get back to work tomorrow,” Mr Tan told Reuters just after the shares started trading.

Thursday’s event, which was attended by more than 200 people, including executives from Nasdaq, as well as Grab’s investors and employees, was Nasdaq’s “first-ever opening bell ceremony” to be hosted in Southeast Asia.

In a speech delivered at the start of the bell-ringing ceremony, Mr Tan said: “Today we shine a spotlight on Southeast Asia, and how its homegrown tech companies are powering new possibilities for the region’s 660 million people.”

He added: “From a single-country, taxi-hailing app, Grab is now a leading super app, enabling consumers to eat, ride and pay in eight countries and over 400 cities.

“None of this would have been possible without the dedication and grit of Grabbers and the support of our consumers, investors, business- and government-partners.”

He also said that the company’s work “is far from done” and will be committed to “innovating faster and doing better”.

This echoed co-founder Ms Tan’s speech, where she noted that it is “still very much day 1” for Grab despite the momentous milestone. Both stressed that Grab is committed to continue driving Southeast Asia forward.

Also speaking at the ceremony, Nasdaq’s Asia-Pacific chairman Bob McCooey said Grab’s opening bell ceremony was “really special”.

“Anthony and his team worked many long hours and late nights to bring what is traditionally a New York event to their home region here. Why? Because they wanted to be in Southeast Asia, where Grab started, and celebrate this momentous occasion with all of you – people that made Grab what it is today,” he said.

“With Grab’s listing today, we are part of a historic event – the largest ever US public listing of a Southeast Asian company. Congratulations,” added Mr McCooey.

The listing came eight months after the Singapore-headquartered firm announced its plan to merge with Altimeter Growth Corp (AGC). The deal was originally slated for completion in the third quarter of this year, but was delayed as Grab finalised a financial audit of its accounts.

Last month, the company reported a 9 per cent decline in third-quarter revenue to US$157 million as its mobility business was hit by COVID-19 curbs in some countries in the region.

Amid the fall in revenue, Grab sank further into the red. Its adjusted loss before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation widened 66 per cent to US$212 million for the quarter.

The deal was given the green light by AGC’s investors earlier this week at an extraordinary general meeting, clearing the final hurdle for a market listing.

As part of the SPAC transaction, Grab will receive a cash injection of US$4.5 billion.

Grab was founded by Mr Tan, its chief executive, and Ms Tan, who developed the firm from an idea for a Harvard Business School venture competition in 2011.

It started off as a taxi app in Malaysia the following year, before expanding into a regional operation with a range of services. Grab now operates across 465 cities in eight countries, offering food deliveries, payments, insurance and investment products.

Last year, it secured a digital full bank licence in Singapore in a partnership with local telco Singtel.

Some experts have described Grab’s listing as a “key barometer and potential milestone” for Southeast Asia’s digital economy, given how it will mark the biggest market debut for a company from this part of the world.

The event was also a memorable one for others present, such as Grab driver Peh Hock Chuan.

The 54-year-old became a full-time Grab driver about five years ago.

Then, he had just moved back to Singapore to be with his family after years of working for a shipping company based in The Netherlands. 

But he faced difficulties in finding a new job, Mr Peh said, describing it as his “most difficult time in life”.

When he started out as a private-hire driver, Mr Peh said that he “drove very hard” for seven days a week. 

Combined with generous incentives that Grab offered to drivers back then, Mr Peh recalled that he was able to earn as much as S$10,000 on some months.

That eased his worries about supporting his family and putting his children through university. His children have also qualified for scholarships from Grab, allowing him to “relax a bit”.

“I feel very honoured and proud to be attending this event, seeing (how) Grab from a small company is now a household name in Southeast Asia and even made it to Nasdaq,” he said. 

“I think they deserve it … (with) their technology that actually helped many millions of people, like me”.

Source: CNA/sk